WASHINGTON (AP) _ Immigration arrests under President Bush are ``stagnant and unimpressive'' despite massive increases in border patrol agents and other immigration enforcement measures imposed since 2000, a report found.
Bush promoted border enforcement successes this week while pushing Congress for a comprehensive immigration policy overhaul. But the centrist private group Third Way questioned his record in a study released Thursday. It found that arrests and deportations are down almost 30% since the Clinton years.
``The decline in immigration enforcement has been steady, dramatic and long-standing,'' said Jim Kessler, the group's vice president for policy and a co-author of the report. ``This may not be the cause of our illegal immigration crisis, but it has certainly contributed to it.''
Like Bush, the group argues for a comprehensive immigration bill, including sealed borders, increased law enforcement and a path to citizenship for the 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. today. Such a bill is being debated in the Senate. Bush supports it.
At a news conference Thursday, Bush defended his record.
``There's going to be a doubling of the Border Patrol agents; there's going to be fencing and berms and different types of equipment to help the Border Patrol do its job in a better way,'' he said.
According to the study, however, it would take more than 100 years to deport all the illegal immigrants in the U.S. at the current rate of arrests, assuming the flow of migrants across the border completely stopped.
The report suggests part of the reason is that after Sept. 11, 2001, the Border Patrol was assigned to guard against terrorists as well as illegal migrants. It also points out that enforcement efforts have targeted immigrants but largely failed to punish the employers who hire them.
Among the report's findings:
_Apprehensions on the Southwest border have declined by 350,000 per year, almost 30% from the Clinton years.
_The number of deportable aliens found at the northern border and border locations other than the Southwest has dropped by almost 40%.
_Although the number of immigration-related arrests at the workplace has risen each year since 2003, 84% of those are workers rather than employers.
There is no realistic chance of solving the immigration crisis without a comprehensive new immigration policy, the report concludes.